Mary Beth Johnson is a writer based in Atlanta, GA. She is currently writing her first book in between school drop off and laundry piles. She can be found every day on Instagram and at the local coffee shop.
Guests will be going back for seconds with these Buttery Thanksgiving Rolls that give a nod to your grandmother’s bread basket full of Parker House Rolls. These rolls are the perfect mix of crusty on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Slather them with butter right out of the oven and you’ve got yourself a no-fuss party in the mouth. If you’ve been intimidated by long and complicated yeast dough recipes before, this is not that kind of recipe. There are no fancy ingredients or extra tedious steps. Just a basic introduction to the art of yeast and the powerful aroma of dough baking in the oven.
If you grew up like I did, the rolls were the highlight of Thanksgiving dinner. Just a few minutes before the meal would start my grandmother would toast the Parker House rolls for a few minutes and then keep them warm in a basket with a towel. I would eat the rolls first, split them wide open, and slather real butter in the center. While the adults were busy talking, I’d go back for more and not stop until I couldn’t hold anymore. When I was a teenager, I decided to teach myself how to make bread from scratch. This was pre-internet, so I pulled out my mom’s Betty Crocker recipe book to learn how. The entire process of activating the yeast, getting the dough to rise, and then baking it fascinated me.
I soon learned that working with yeast was basically a science experiment using edible elements. While I never considered myself “good at science” I became very good at baking bread. It took patience and practice. At first, I couldn’t get my dough to rise. Then, I couldn’t get the bread to have that glossy, golden brown finish I’d seen in the pages of Betty Crocker. Or, I would over-cook the bread and it would taste like dry cardboard. (Tip: get yourself a thermometer.) However, I appreciated a type of science experiment where I was rewarded with something tangible people could enjoy.
It might be dry bread at first, but it was edible!
It’s been years since those Betty Crocker days and now with practice and the internet I’ve learned that yeast is finicky and has a mind of its own. I still scratch my head at my results from time to time. Each and every time I show up to the yeast foaming in the water my heart pounds a little. “Will it turn out this time?” I ask myself. As I work my way through the stages of dough, rise, repeat, I also work through my own stages of insecurity. I am stretched, humbled, and molded, much like the dough I am forming in my hands.
While the yeast dough turns out differently for me every time, it is the practice that I am proud of. And when the buttery Thanksgiving rolls slide out of the oven onto the cooling rack I think to myself, “I made this.”
If you learn nothing else from me describing the yeast dough process, learn this: the temperature matters. Whether you’re using this recipe for buttery Thanksgiving yeast rolls, or homemade pizza crust for movie night. The yeast needs a warm environment to work its magic. Before you dissolve the yeast into the warm water, make sure the liquid is warmer than lukewarm, but not hot. Recipes typically suggest the temperature of the liquid to be around 110 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use a thermometer, but I find that the index finger does a phenomenal job of gauging the temperature once you familiarize yourself with what “hotter than lukewarm” feels like.
Yeast dough rises much better in a warm environment with no cold drafts. Preheat your oven slightly (not too hot) to create a warm place for the dough to rise in. If your oven is not available, places like the microwave or underneath a sunny window are also perfect. Cover the dough loosely with a slightly damp towel or saran wrap. You’ll know that the dough has successfully risen when it has doubled in size and/or when you press your finger into the dough it springs back, but leaves a slight dent.
This recipe makes about 24 rolls if you divide the dough into balls about 3-4 inches in diameter. Keep in mind that the rolls will rise to about double and then get even fluffier through the baking stage. I made the mistake of giving my rolls too much breathing room on the baking pan (as pictured in the photos) so they didn’t touch each other and get that nice, soft flaky layer when you break them apart. I suggest that you lay out the rolls so they’ll rise into each other, about 1 inch apart on your parchment-lined baking sheet or buttered, 9 x 13 inch glass pan.
Recipe from Bobby Flay.